GPS Tracking comes too late and is an ineffective tool for safeguarding victims
I heard the wailing sirens in Waukesha this past Monday around 7:20 p.m., just like I heard the wailing sirens shortly after 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, October 21, 2012. Not one, but two instances of domestic homicides in Waukesha County within a six month window.
Although statistics for 2012 are not yet available, the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that Wisconsin observed 34 domestic homicides in 2011. 2009 saw 67 deaths, and 2010 saw 58 deaths. Clearly there is a need for stern and effective legislation to protect domestic abuse victims.
The recent domestic homicide in Waukesha
Just weeks after Governor Walker announced the “Investing in Wisconsin: Protecting Victims of Domestic Violence” policy, a senseless act of domestic homicide in Waukesha has stolen another innocent life from us. In light of the fact that assailant, Eddie D. Callaway, was under a restraining order at the time of the crime offers little confidence that laws adequately protect citizens that need it. I can’t help but to believe that legislation to prevent more tragedies is substantially ineffective and comes too late. Not just for the friends and families of the victims, but for our community as a whole.
Callaway has been involved in numerous violent crimes and domestic disputes, recently being released from the Wisconsin Prison System in January. Besides being a convicted felon, on February 1st a Milwaukee County judge granted a temporary restraining order against Callaway from a woman he allegedly battered in Indiana. The felon status and the restraining order prohibit him from possessing any firearms, but neither deterred him. Further, someone in the legal system – a judge, prosecutor, or probation/parole agent – should have known that Callaway was at risk to commit more violent acts.
Callaway’s actions could have been prevented
As a citizen I am left to wonder why Callaway, with his violent history, wasn’t being supervised at a high risk level by the Wisconsin DOC, such as being monitored by an electronic/GPS tracking device. What’s even more puzzling is that Callaway hadn’t checked in with his parole officer since February 13th and was in abscond status with an active warrant from the DOC at the time he killed 24 year old Nani Negron.
Unlike the Azana Salon tragedy where the assailant took his own life and ended any further violence by him, Eddie D. Callaway is still on the loose. Based upon his history he will likely wreak more violence before he is caught or even killed in an attempt to take him in to custody. Every day that he is at large is another opportunity for him to kill someone else.
Domestic Violence Reform in Wisconsin
Since the Azana Spa shooting last October, the issue of domestic violence reform in Wisconsin has been a widely discussed topic. Ironically, six months before the Azana Spa tragedy the legislature enacted Wis.Stat.§813.129 which goes into effect on January 1st 2014. The law provides for GPS tracking of individuals that knowingly violate a temporary restraining order or injunction. Some people think this will be helpful, but for two reasons I believe the law is fatally flawed and provides no effective protection.
GPS Tracking applies to individuals who violate an existing restraining order
Here are the exact words from the applicable statute.
“If a person knowingly violates a temporary restraining order or injunction issued under s. 813.12 or 813.125, in addition to other penalties provided in those sections, the court may report the violation to the department of corrections immediately upon the person’s conviction and may order the person to submit to global positioning system tracking under s. 301.49.”
In other words the law provides that, (1) the person must violate a temporary restraining order; and (2) the person must be convicted of violating the temporary restraining order BEFORE he or she may be subject to GPS tracking.
This mechanism comes way too late in the game!
Will GPS Tracking Really Protect Victims?
The history and effectiveness of GPS tracking of offenders is questionable at best. Further, the policy chosen in Wisconsin of monitoring domestic violence offenders who have “violated a restraining order” is a layer of protection that comes too late.
Domestic violence victims who have met the prerequisites of demonstrating an imminent threat of danger deserve to have their assailants under the watchful scan of satellites to protect them. But even so, does GPS offer a genuine safety net? After all, offenders can simply cut the GPS monitor off…
Accuracy and Reliability of GPS
In recent months California corrections officials found the devices used in half the state were so inaccurate and unreliable that the public was in imminent danger because batteries died early, cases cracked, and reported locations were off by as much as three miles. Officials in California also found that tampering alerts failed and offenders were able to disappear by covering the devices with foil, deploying illegal GPS jammers or ducking into cars or buildings. In Wisconsin concerns over accuracy and reliability of GPS is not much better.
In an article published last month at WisconsinWatchdog.Org, investigative Journalist Mario Koran exposed the frailties of GPS tracking and its unreliability. To me this seems to demonstrate that using GPS for domestic violence offenders provides only limited safety and a false sense of security for victims. One portion of the article stated:
“To be used best, ‘it needs to be used with a clear view of the sky, no clouds, wide open spaces,’ Drake said. We as people spend 90 percent of our time indoors, so there’s an immediate problem.
Gable calls BI, which has been working with Wisconsin since 1991, ‘the biggest and the oldest manufacturer’ of GPS tracking equipment on the market.
BI’s website warns that the GPS signals sent by the devices can be lost due to rain or fog, in deep canyons or dense vegetation, near large or tall buildings, and ‘when the offender is riding in a car or other enclosed means of transportation.’ ”
Despite being the biggest and oldest manufacturer of GPS technology, Koran’s article reminded everyone that man-made technology is subject to failure:
In 2010, BI suffered a nationwide electronic monitoring server crash, leaving authorities in 49 states unaware of the movements of offenders who were being tracked by GPS and other technology. In Wisconsin, police and correctional officers reportedly held about 140 sex offenders in jail throughout the state until the GPS tracking system was restored.”
I am confident that the law will continue to fail us as long as lawmakers keep providing latitude for offenders to do so. Waiting for a person to violate a restraining order and being convicted of such before implementing enhanced protection for victims is absurd!
It is patently clear that a restraining order alone holds very limited, and in too many cases, no protection whatsoever.
I would propose GPS tracking immediately upon a finding that a person has fulfilled the elements of a temporary restraining order. If they violate the terms once, then off to jail they go.
I would also propose stiffer penalties – such as prison sentences – for individuals who violate restraining orders. Monetary sanctions and 9 months in jail (which is rarely – if never imposed) are not effective!
We civilly commit sexual offenders, so restraining the liberty of individuals who have demonstrated a propensity for violence and even murder warrants extra protection for victims of domestic violence.
Everyone deserves the full and faithful protection of the law; laws that fulfill and serve the needs for which they are created.
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